Not long before Mike Fratello resigned as coach of the Atlanta Hawks last spring, he took a parting shot at point guard Kenny Smith, strongly suggesting the former North Carolina All-American lacked the leadership qualities to direct a National Basketball Association offense.
Smith, who already had been traded by the Sacramento Kings to Atlanta, packed his bags again, this time for Houston, where the Rockets desperately were searching for a floor leader after Sleepy Floyd flunked the test.
That Atlanta received shopworn guard John Lucas and reserve center Tim McCormick for Smith and fellow guard Roy Marble, who was also a No. 1 draft pick, clearly indicated that new Hawks coach Bobby Weiss also had light regard for Smith.
But three weeks into the new season, the 6-foot-3 guard already has drawn a solid endorsement from Rockets coach Don Chaney and All-Star center Akeem Olajuwon.
"I like what he does for our team," said Olajuwon, often critical of management's personnel decisions.
"Any guard would love playing with a great big man, one who rebounds, blocks shots and scores," said Smith, who is averaging 16.8 points and 7.5 assists. "My situation in Houston is like night and day compared to Atlanta. This system fits my game, and the team has confidence in me to get the job done."
Smith said he holds no grudge against the Kings and Hawks.
"Timing is everything in this league, and I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time," he said. "But I never lost my confidence.
"Atlanta was changing coaches and systems. I knew they'd make personnel changes. You try to emphasize building your own stock, sort of like an individual contractor. You do the job you have to do where you have to do it."
Knick knocks: New York Knicks All-Star center Patrick Ewing said he resents that, unlike the Los Angeles Lakers, who consult Magic Johnson, and the Detroit Pistons, who seek Isiah Thomas' opinion before making trades, his advice has not been sought by the Knicks.
"Unfortunately, that doesn't happen here," he said. "I'd love for them to come to me."
Ewing, seeking to renegotiate his contract, said: "I wish the Knicks had done what San Antonio did after getting David Robinson. They went out and got the talent they needed to field a great team around him. I don't know if that is easy or hard. All I know is that a lot of teams have been able to do it."
Charlotte unloved: Philadelphia 76ers center Mike Gminski said is troubled by the repeated rumors that he and forward Ron Anderson are heading to the Charlotte Hornets in exchange for forward Armon Gilliam and guard Dell Curry.
"At this stage of my career, I don't need to go to a team where I'd have my head handed to me every night," said Gminski, 31, a 10-year veteran. "Obviously, I'm not happy about going to Charlotte, and teams tend to stay away from unhappy players.
"I fit in perfectly with the 76ers," said Gminski, an effective outside shooter and passer who teams up front with Charles Barkley and Rick Mahorn. "Look around the league, and I'm the best center for this team."
Caught in the Net: Shooting guard Reggie Theus, who has made the New Jersey Nets his sixth NBA stop since joining the pros with the Chicago Bulls in 1978, said he was made the scapegoat with his last two teams -- Atlanta and the Orlando Magic.
"A lot of times when a team is on a losing streak, one guy seems to get the blame, and that happened to me," said Theus, who leads the Nets in scoring at 19.9.
"But I don't think there is a player in this league who has anything negative to say about me. But there might be one or two coaches. Not everyone in this business is going to like you."
I'm sorry: Barkley has apologized for what he intended to be a postgame quip that made light of wife-beating.
Barkley said after a tough Nov. 3 victory over the New Jersey Nets: "This is a game that if you lose, you go home and beat your wife and kids. Did you see my wife jumping up and down at the end of the game? That's because she knew I wasn't going to beat her."
Barkley was asked if he really wanted to be quoted saying that, and said: "No, print it. [Annoy] those women's groups."
Which is what happened.
Roberta Hacker, head of a Philadelphia organization for battered women, said that even if Barkley's comments were intended as a joke, "six million women are beaten every year. That isn't funny."
Tough times: After spending his $150,000 signing bonus in record time, San Antonio Spurs rookie center Dwayne Schintzius said, "It was so bad, I had to start selling aluminum cans."